Nov 10

Next Generation Democracy, by Jared Duval

I read this book on my way to the UK last week, and it really helped inform my remarks at the House of Commons. With an introduction by Tim O’Reilly, it’s a look at how open source ideas and architectures are influencing our democracy:

Thankfully, the lessons of the Internet—open standards, open-source software, and data-driven applications—are all being followed, albeit with greater or lesser focus in one project or another. (That’s true in the private sector as well.) Open APIs are being developed that will allow applications to work across the country (and eventually, internationally), rather than being bound to the systems of any one city. Projects like Code for America are working to build mechanisms for sharing code, expertise, and best practices between cities. We’re seeing new alliances between governments at the federal, state, and local levels to increase citizen services, eliminate redundancy, and reduce costs.

But it’s not all happy — he also talks about how the main focus has been on transparency and sunlight, but that that’s not nearly enough — we need to build better architectures of participation.

Yet rather than learning from its early mistakes and trying to provide for more meaningful and structured forms of public participation, the White House has since neglected the “participation” plank of the Open Government Initiative, shifting almost all of its focus to the safer realm of open data and government transparency. As the New Democrat Network has noted, the Open Government Directive “does a lot for the ‘Transparency’ part … but not much for the ‘Participation’ or ‘Collaboration’ portions … To really get the full benefit of the wisdom of the crowd, the government’s next step will have to ensure the dialogue is truly two-way.”14 Indeed, the danger that comes with focusing almost exclusively on transparency—a vital yet insufficient goal—is that we may end up seeing the failures of our government but being left with little recourse for doing anything about them. Transparency without avenues for real participation seems a bit like watching a police interrogation from behind a two-way mirror. While you can see what is going on, you have little ability to do anything if something goes wrong. And in any case, transparency has run aground as well. Abandoning his pledge to do health care around a table on C-SPAN, the president consented to a process of congressional wheeling, dealing, and capitulation to special interests, personified most by senators like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. Once the House and the Senate finally passed their divergent bills, the White House—in a rush to sign a bill—gave its blessing to skipping the conference-committee process and conducting negotiations to reconcile the two bills in private, among Democrats alone.

Obviously, I think this book is required reading for those who hope to change our government.

Nov 10

Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick

I’ve been interested in understanding a little bit more about North Korea for a while — have read a couple of books about it that were both good (Pyongyang and North Korea: Another Country). Both were good, but very different — the first was a comic format about the author’s experiences, the 2nd was more of a historical view.

This book, by Barbara Demick, is a set of 6 oral histories of North Koreans who have defected over the last decade or so.

The writing I found a little bit dry — so it took me some time to get through — but the material is, of course, incredibly interesting and compelling. These people live lives that are unimaginable to me — I consider it a real privilege, not to mention incredibly humbling, to be able to read a bit of their remembered histories.

If you’re interested in the Hermit Kingdom, this is a view that’s worth adding.

Nov 10

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

A short collection of folk tales by Sedaris — he heard some African folks tales a while back and thought to himself “I can do better than that!”

They’re modern, snarky, sometimes hilarious, often weird — pretty much what you’d expect from Sedaris.

I think I’d recommend for Sedaris fans, but probably not essential reading.

Nov 10

Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem

Honestly, I have no idea what this book is about. I love Lethem — some of his books are my very favorites. But it was a real struggle to get through this novel, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t worth it at all. Lethem’s last few books haven’t been great; hopefully he’ll find his groove again soon.

Nov 10

Last Day at Mozilla

I’ve always been bad at leaving.

Today’s my last day at Mozilla (as a full time employee — I’ll continue to be on the Board of Directors), so I wanted to write down a bit of what I’m feeling as I get ready to go in to work. I’m writing this partly so that I can remember what it feels like — I’m finding that it’s quite an emotional time for me — and partly because I haven’t seen much like this around the web, on other people’s blogs.

Schrep likes to joke that of all job skills, I’m worst at quitting, and he always feels bad when he makes that joke, but he’s absolutely right, of course. It takes me a long time to transition. At Reactivity, I transitioned out over 4 months at the end of 2004; at Mozilla, it’s been very nearly a year since I first talked with Mitchell about moving on.

There are reasons for that, of course — it took a bit of time to organize our plans and the organization to be able to get through a transition, and we did a retained search in a relatively speedy 5 1/2 months.

But for me it was a basic equation: I really, really care about Mozilla, and, given the context that I was ready to move to my next thing, I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that we’d get through the transition stronger than ever. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the support and patience of both Mozilla and Greylock during this period — and it’s let us change in a way that I think has been very stable and should be good for the future.

It’s already obvious that Gary’s going to be an ouststanding CEO and team member for Mozilla — he’s already a great culture fit, asking questions that cut to the heart of things, and providing clear insights. He’s going to be great. Firefox 4, which is right around the corner, is an incredibly terrific product, both on desktop and mobile, that I think it validates our slow transition approach for the year. And we’ve got so many things coming from our product groups and labs that I’m certain next year will be transformative for the project, the organization, and the whole web.

As you might imagine, hiring a replacement for yourself is a particularly self-centered and self-reflective experience. For me, it caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about what I did well, what I screwed up, how the organization had changed over the years, how I’d changed over the years. It’s taught me a bunch about myself and what I care about, and how I want to live my work life in the future.

I wrote about leaving back when we first announced the CEO search, and all of that is even truer now. I’m proud of what we’ve done together at Mozilla, proud of how we’ve changed the world. I’ve got a deep gratitude to the whole community that let me come in and gave me the support to make my own mark on the project. And I’m really, really excited to watch the whole project change the world in new and amazing ways in the years to come.